Hornbill Unleashed

August 1, 2015

Rail has potential to make Borneo the new Australia

Filed under: Politics — Hornbill Unleashed @ 8:02 AM

Practically every other week, there is news of people and businesses from either side of the border separating Sar­awak from West Kalimantan wanting to forge greater formal relations.

Just the past week, it was reported that a Memorandum of Understanding was signed between the Dayak National Congress (DNC) and the Ulu Kapuas District Iban Association as a way to further bond kinship and business ties between peoples sharing common ethnic and cultural heritage even as they are divided by an international border.

“The Iban Dayaks in Kalimantan have managed to preserve the origi­nality of their traditions and cultures. These are the areas we can learn from our Dayak counterparts in Kalimantan,” said DNC president Mengga Mikui at a ceremony in Kuching to seal the memorandum.

Quite how useful this and countless other similar agreements inked over the years have proven to be is of course open to debate, but they are at least expres­sions of desires for formal links usually concluded after frequent exchanges of visits.

At any rate, the frequency of such formal exchanges pales in comparison to the almost daily to and fro of people across the long common border through numerous crossings. It is these more informal social and business contacts, one suspects, which provide the real adhesive binding these communities together.

The advent of political decen­tralisation in the post-Suharto era in Indonesia has in recent years seen a Dayak elected to the governor’s office in the West Kalimantan capital of Pontianak. This has seen quite a bee-line of mostly Dayak politicians from Sarawak visiting Pontianak, no doubt wanting to bask in the reflected glory of a fellow Dayak making good across the border.

If all the evident goodwill flowing back and forth presages the cusp of a new era of greater cross-border social and economic developments in these far-flung reaches of Malaysia and Indonesia respectively, it should all be to the greater good of both our nations.

But as things stand now, it looks like Sarawak will only peel further ahead of its Kalimantan counterpart in almost every sphere of human development. Finding ways to avoid ever-widening gaps such as this must be an imperative for both Malaysia and Indonesia.

Take the Pan-Borneo Highway for example. The very first leg will link Sar­awak’s western-most point at Tanjung Datu to Kuching and is slated for com­pletion within a year. Tanjung Datu is also where Sarawak meets West Kalimantan and where local Sarawak residents and holiday-makers to the pristine waters off Telok Melano regularly make the short side excursion by speedboat to the town on the Indonesian side.

The road link makes for even easier access from Kuching to this traditional coastal resort area that also happens to be the political bailiwick of Sarawak Chief Minister Tan Sri Adenan Satem. It may also prove in time to be a vital economic life-line to residents on the Indonesian side that will make greater economic integration with Sarawak all but irresist­ible. In West Kalimantan, despite some hype, plans for more infrastructure works remain largely still on the drawing boards.

The most eye-catching of such plans was revealed sometime at the turn of the century when talk about a Trans-Borneo Railway ringing the entire coastal fringe of the island made for some fairly dra­matic headlines in the wider region.

Of course it was more the usual hype than anything grounded in realistic economic fundamentals. However, closer scrutiny of the grandiose idea may fairly conclude that it may no longer be so grandiose and fanciful.

Fifteen years ago, China was just emerging to be the economic juggernaut that it has since become. It has recently initiated the formation of the Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank which, if all falls according to plan, should be up and running within a year.

With its ambitious plan for a revival of the ancient Silk Road that comes with a maritime component, the time looks opportune for Malaysian and Indonesian economic planners to rehash the plan for the Trans-Borneo Railway and sell the idea to China as part and parcel of the maritime silk route.

With one bold stroke, the full opening up of this last major economic frontier in the region will have been realised. To be sure, realising such a bold scheme requires the Indonesian government to stick firmly to market-friendly opening up of its substantial mineral resources lying below ground in Kalimantan to full and responsible exploitation.

Something like a gold rush evident in even the remotest reaches of Kalimantan in recent years has markedly cooled as a direct result of Jakarta’s policy changes requiring miners to add value locally rather than export raw materials.

With luck, easy accessibility across Borneo by rail may even make big mining concerns to think twice about not smelting the mined ores locally, provided reliable power supplies are part of the whole equation. Borneo may then realise its full potential as the new Australia and one that is half the distance to major markets in China and the rest of Asia.

Such an economic fillip that the Trans-Borneo Railway will be the catalyst for will attract migrants from the rest of Indonesia to under-populated Kaliman­tan, especially from over-crowded Java and may even galvanise a plan to move the Indonesian capital from Jakarta to Samarinda in East Kalimantan. Real­ising such a plan may bring in its wake the greatest construction boom ever, certainly in the whole of Borneo if not the entire Indonesia.

China has shown that not only does it possess boldness of vision but also determination in spades to turn the country into an economic superpower within a single generation. Indonesia and Malaysia have shown that we may not lack of similarly bold vision but we tend to flag in the execution of whatever vision we may conjure up.

Without a doubt preserving ecological balance in Borneo amidst great economic development will be a challenge but this last remaining frontier in our region must also be the frontier where efforts towards striking just such a balance are fully exerted by all concerned.—- John Teo



  1. China and Malaysia do not have much similarity. China has the boldness to drag corrupted politicians to face justice. That the big major difference.

    Comment by worryinglot — August 1, 2015 @ 2:54 PM | Reply

    • In China, if such suspect is convicted in Court, they will face immediately face a bullet, & the kin will have to pay for that bullet.

      Comment by tiuniamah — August 2, 2015 @ 10:52 AM | Reply

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